Why only a future proof organisation is truly a sustainable workplace?
The setting is the University of Oxford in England. The university is over 900 years old. So, as you can imagine, its buildings are pretty old, too. One particular building is around 150 years old. What makes this building special – other than its age – is its roof. It was made from special oak beams – fulllength trunks of oak trees. However, being 150 years old, the oak beams were naturally beginning to rot and fall apart, so the faculty came together to discuss the matter. After figuring out the cost of replacing the beams, they quickly realized that they couldn’t afford it. During the discussion, one of the younger members of the faculty said: “Before we take any drastic measures, let me do some research.” So she did and came back two weeks later to shared her findings with the other faculty members: “I am very pleased we did the research, she said because we discovered that the architect who built this very building 150 years ago, planted a group of oak trees specifically for this purpose.”
This story comes from Gregory Bateson and it perfectly illustrates what I believe the true meaning of sustainability to be. Sustainability is larger than the ecological concept it is often equated to. Getting ahead of future challenges is nowadays one of the most common struggles HR Managers in any kind of organisation face. Whereas you are part of a large or small organisation, and wherever you are based in the world, you need to get ahead of the challenges, changes, and trends of the future, and it seems that you need to do that today.
Thinking into the future and facilitating processes and systems, even 150 years ahead, is how we can create sustainable systems, meaning systems that can sustain themselves in the long term future. I convience of organisations and workplaces to be systems in themselves and I beleive this is how we can create truly sustainable workplaces.
There are many definitions of the term sustainability, such as “the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment” or “the quality of being able to continue over a period of time”.
We at Akka Architects believe in the large meaning of sustainability and we define sustainable as a system being able to sustain itself for the long term future. And in that sense, creating sustainable workplaces is crucial in achieving future proof organisations.
We believe that the essence of sustainability is to achieve a balance between people’s interests now and the interest of future generations. Sustainability is not only ecological, but also economic and social. When we consider the future of organisations, we quickly realise that sustainability, specifically meaning a sustainable HR approach and sustainable HR practices are essential in making organisations future proof workplaces sustainable. In order to succeed in preparing your organisation to not only survive but to thrive in the future, there are three qualities of sustainability to keep in mind. As an HR leader, think about how can you embed these qualities in your HR practices.
Quality #1: PHYSICAL
Firstly, sustainability is about the physical quality of the materials, that we employ here and now. This is where most of the global discourse on sustainability and even sustainable workplaces is today. This physical quality relates to, for example, materials selection, such as the use of safe, healthy, recycled, recyclable, biodegradable materials that are able to be maintained within biological or technical metabolisms.
In addition to materials, we also speak here about sustainable products or systems. This concerns how materials come together to create systems that are in themselves also sustainable. Think of simple products such as a chair or more complex systems such as an energy cycle. While those examples are tangible material examples, this quality applies to your HR practices as well. This quality is essentially the first layer of physical quality that can help you evaluate how sustainable are your practices, in the here and now
Quality #2: RESILIENT
Beyond the very physicality of materials and systems, sustainability needs to be adaptive, assimilative and resilient of the changes it faces. This is a responsive quality of sustainability. Being resilient to changes does not mean resisting them. On the contrary, it actually means being able to embrace them and adapt to them. This is where we need to consider consequences in the shortterm future and create our products and services in a way that will stand the test of time. What if the materials we use and systems we create wouldn’t lose value over time? Even better, what if – like real estate –, products and services could gain value over time? In any case, whatever we design, physical or abstract products, programs or services, we need to ensure they remain agile and able to adapt to changing circumstances. How can you tweak and refine your HR practices to be more resilient? How can you create a sustainable workplace that is truly resilient?
Quality #3: ANTICIPATORY
Beyond the current state of things in the present and immediate future, sustainability should also be concerned with the longterm future. The most mature quality of sustainability is one that anticipates the foreseeable, as well as the unforeseeable future trends. As opposed to the responsive quality of resilience, here it is about a proactive quality. Here we need to empower the systems we create to be able to adapt themselves, by themselves. This is what will enable a system to sustain itself over the long-term future and be truly future proof. How can you reimagine your HR practices to be more anticipatory? How can you embed an anticipatory quality in your HR practices and elevate them to a whole new level? How can you create a sustainable workplace that is anticipatory?
In essence, sustainability embraces the physical reality of now, builds in the resilience and agility to adapt to constantly changing conditions and the intelligence of anticipatory thinking.
Designing sustainably is facilitating processes into the future.
In order to set yourself and your company up for success, you need to ensure your organisation is future proof and your workplace sustainable. Embedding the three qualities of sustainability – the physical quality, the quality of resilience and the anticipatory quality – in your HR practices as a professional individual, as a team and as an organisation, can ensure that you create a truly sustainable workplace.
In the specific situation of your organisation and your context, how can you embed these three sustainable qualities in your HR practices? What would it mean for you, your colleagues, your clients, and your impact if you adopted more sustainable practices?
Are you interested in more sustainable HR practices? Would you like to create a future proof organization in a sustainable way? Download here the book The Power of Interactions and get the mindset as well as the practical four steps to take your organization to the next level.